Flint watch: A basic question concerning Flint!

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016

Such questions rarely get clarified:
In this morning's New York Times, Monica Davey discusses last week's criminal charges concerning events in Flint. To read her report, click here.

Charges were filed against three public workers. In this passage, she describes the charges which have been lodged against two "state water regulators:"
DAVEY (4/25/16): Charges against Mr. Prysby, 53, and Mr. Busch, 40, include misconduct in office, accusing them of knowingly misleading federal and county officials about whether the water was safe, as well as conspiring to tamper with evidence and tampering with reports on lead.

The pair also are charged with failing to require the city of Flint to add chemicals to its new water supply to prevent lead from leaching from service lines, which is standard protocol for dealing with aged water systems; with improperly manipulating water-testing samples by directing residents to “pre-flush” their taps, which would decrease lead levels; and with failing to collect enough samples from homes that were known to have lead service lines.


In February 2015, Mr. Busch told a concerned Environmental Protection Agency official, who was asking about some high lead findings, that Flint was indeed using chemicals to prevent leaching from the pipes, a process known as corrosion control, though the state now acknowledges that no such controls were in place at the time.
The highlighted passages describe a key failing here. When the city of Flint switched to the Flint River as its (temporary) water supply, it failed to "us[e] chemicals to prevent leaching from the pipes, a process known as corrosion control."

According to the basic theory of the case, this failure to use standard "corrosion control" explains the subsequent high levels of lead in the city's water.

According to these criminal charges, Prysby and Busch failed to require the city to employ standard corrosion control when the city's water supply was switched. Later, according to these charges, Busch falsely told the EPA that corrosion control was being used.

By now, everyone seems to agree that this basic breakdown occurred. The failure to employ standard corrosion control led to high levels of lead in the city's water.

This leaves a basic question unanswered. Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River as a temporary water source? If standard corrosion control had been employed, would a problem have arisen?

This is a very basic question about what happened in Flint. As usual, this basic question has typically gone unaddressed in reporting about this matter.

Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River? On the Maddow Show last week, Rachel Maddow and Curt Guyette were trying to determine responsibility for the decision to use the river as Flint's water supply. Parts of Davey's report today turn on the same question.

Who made the decision to use the Flint River? The answer remains unclear. That said, we've never seen anyone ask the more fundamental question:

If corrosion control had been used, would a problem have arisen? Was anything fundamentally wrong with the decision to use the Flint River?

This is a very basic question—but so what? The way our broken discourse works, even the most fundamental questions rarely get identified, let alone answered.

That said, here's our question for Professor Marc Edwards, who actually knows what he's talking about concerning such basic matters:

If standard corrosion control had been used, would a problem have arisen? Was anything essentially wrong with the decision to use the Flint River?

Maddow seems immune to the logic of this question, but that should come as no surprise. Basically, she's been sketching a cartoon about Flint from the day this story started.

Davey also seemed a bit muddled concerning this point in this morning's Times. That said, this is the way our discourse typically works as our journalistic culture keeps sliding into the sea.

Increasingly, this is the way our discourse works: If it weren't for the lack of clarity, we'd have no clarity at all!


  1. As I wait for ESPN103.3 Dallas' interview with George W. Bush, any updates on Lamar Odom?

    1. Quit reading Salon some time ago when the Sandanista Worms took over the place.

  2. Awhile back a guest on Ian Masters' Background Briefing stated that prior, GM had requested and been granted a switch from the Flint River as the water source for one of it's few remaining Detroit area facilities because the water, used on machined metal, was corroding cast engine parts to the point of ruin.

  3. Too bad Bob doesn't read the comments. Otherwise I could answer his questions. Lead pipes form a passivated coating is the presence of water that flows through in the normal PH range of lake water. The passivated coating prevents the lead from leeching out into the water. This is how it has worked since the Roman times. The Flint river, unfortunately, has alkaline water (high PH) which eventually ate away the passivated coating and exposed people to the lead which began to leech out.

    The person behind the decision to switch to the Flint river supply is kept hush because it was made by a black city manager, Darnell Early -- representing a heavily racialized district that votes based on race, in an effort to save money. The instructions to look for ways to save money were made by a white governor so he is the one who receives the entirety of blame from the regressive left.

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 27, 2016 at 12:06 PM

      You left out an important fact. Mr. Early was appointed by the governor as an "emergency" manager who was authorized to make such decisions without the consent of the rest of the city government (elected by the citizens). So, the switch to Flint River water was in no way the choice of the citizens of Flint and entirely the responsibility of the governor (white or otherwise). This is not a left or right issue.

  4. Yes. The move to Flint River water was done to financially hurt the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, so in order to gain support for the privatization of MI water delivery.

    Snyder swore to run the State of MI like a business. Making the residents of the state his shareholders. The State of MI didn't harm the shareholders. Governor Snyder harmed the shareholders. Therefore he, and not the State, should be held personally responsible.

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